I’m going to ask Elaine Kreston to play a note on her cello, and I’m going to ask you to follow that note and let it lead you into silence. I will offer a prayer out of silence, and then Elaine will bring us back with another note from her cello.
“We call upon the one who manifests the many, the source and substance of all reality, to open our hearts and minds to the divine, present in, with, and as all beings. We pray for humility to know we do not know. We pray for courage, to question our certainties. We pray for clarity to see in the other the mirrored face of God. May each of us attend to the deepest and best of who we are that we might make of this gathering, a gathering of diverse and unique threads, to take those threads and weave them into a great tapestry of wisdom, compassion, and peace, in that name which is beyond naming—the experience of silence itself.”
This is what we are really about-a subversive gathering more dangerous to the planet than many things that we fear, because we dare to reclaim who we are-to live from it, as it. One of the ways we do this it to gather here and listen to people who are transparent to the divine. If we are to be gateways, then the more “you” that is there, the more the light of the divine is distorted, so we need to be transparent.
The most important thing any human being has to share is one’s own certainty. When I say certainty, I don’t mean “belief.” Rumi says, “Beliefs are different everywhere, but faith is one and the same everywhere.” So as human beings, we sometimes pick up strange beliefs, even those of us on the spiritual path. I don’t know if you have found this to be true, but I am always looking at the beliefs and baggage I acquire-looking at them critically and asking, “Is this really helpful, is this necessary?” The certainty I’m talking about is about very simple things. We live in a universe, in an existence that is unified. It has one center, one source, and that center is everywhere. It is not only meaningful and orderly; it is mysteriously generous, awesomely abundant, and beautiful. Our situation as human beings is as “knowers” of this generosity and beauty, this supreme and subtle intelligence.
One way of thinking about spirituality is to determine how much it enlarges the context in which we live. The Sufi lives in a universe created by love. Once when talking with one of my teachers, I asked the question, “How will I ever attain this love?” He said, “Don’t ever think of love as the goal of anything; love is the cause of everything.” What we mean by love is something very profound, deep, and universal. It is the yearning that brought us together, the yearning that caused you to make the time in your lives to be here, to put gas in the tank of your car, and to get here. Love is the cause, the way, and the origin. We all return to that origin.
. . . In human situations, problems get quite complex with so many variables that we become bewildered as to where solutions really lie. As a guideline, as a principle, we might suggest that when faced with a problem, ask love for the answer; simply see if it works. By love, we don’t necessarily mean being really nice; we don’t know what love is going to demand of us. Love is a fire. Love is for heroes. The challenges of life cause some people to retreat in cowardice, while causing others to be borne forward in heroism. So intellect always raises the questions, and love always gives the answers. See if this is true; find out for yourself.
Part of contact with actuality is to embody what we speak of, what we experience, what we feel, into life. So while I may be sitting in this chair and you may be sitting down there, this does not describe a life, the embodiment of what we are here for. This creation of reality, even as we sit here trying to see clearly-or not trying-or trying to not try, even here we create the ideas that generate reality. Is it possible to see directly what we are? Are we in fact the sense of location, placement, the subject that looks out at objects? Is that what we are? This is what thought generates each time it arises; it generates the subject and the object, the “me” and the “you.” That’s the nature of thought, not as something that is bad, but just what it is.
. . . Doing nothing doesn’t refer to sitting in a big chair or being a special person. Doing nothing refers to the illusion that there is something to do about the dilemma that thought creates. We believe that through some experience or process, we are going to come to completion. What brings us to a place like this? Is it a big experience, a loving experience, a sublime experience that I can have, take; speak about, one that I can catalog? Maybe I can have the experience of enlightenment and make it to the big chair. What is it that drives us?
. . . How is it that we can even make consciousness into another idea? So what I am going to ask you to do today is to consider-just consider-giving it all up. Can you give up not just the sense of self and all the qualities of ego that we have cataloged so clearly in all our years of spirituality, but give up consciousness, the Holy Grail? This is to give up spirituality with all its qualities, to give up all your experiences.
. . . The unfortunate fact is that with every experience, however expansive, however sublime, there is an experiencer. This experiencer, this creation of thought, this fundamental separation, creates conflict in even the most sublime experience. Can we be radically honest with ourselves and see this one thing: Are we looking for an experience? When we come to a place such as this, are we coming for “something,” and what is it? What is the experience that we look for? And if that experience begins we say, “I like this man,” and if that experience does not occur, then we say, “Well, I don’t like him so much.” Do we sort our life based on what we like and what we don’t like? In fact, are we in contact with the life around us or are we simply sorting it out based on these interpretations, these experiences? Right now, as you sit here, is the experience good or bad? Do you like it or not like it? Can we see this sorting, this struggling, as agitation? If we walk away from this drive for experience, then what’s left right now? Whatever your mind likes or doesn’t like, whether there is comfort or discomfort, what is present and totally unconcerned with your interpretation? As we touch this space-if we touch this space-is this an experience? Does it have qualities, does it resolve anything, or does it do anything? How can we cultivate it, control it, direct it? Has this identification now become a big identification, one that is so subtle and broad that it is invisible?
You start seeking because you don’t accept “what is.” You need to come back to why you cannot accept “what is.” Perhaps I can’t accept “what is” because I thought I wanted freedom; I thought I could find this freedom in free love, in drugs, in a way of living that was different from the way my parents live. I looked, saw how unhappy they were, and thought, “I’m going to figure out the proper way to live. I can be freer than them.” Eventually, we figured out that we were just as unhappy, but in a different way. So, we adopted Advaita, or some other teaching, and tried to follow it. But, we see at the root that there is still pain. Rather than accept “what is,” we have been given a lot of dogma about how to live. If you look prior to the dogma, when we were very tiny, we intuit that there is something we haven’t learned; we intuit what feels right and feels wrong. So throughout our lives, which changes with age and situation, we are still capable of respecting our ability to feel what is right for us and what feels wrong. We need to recognize the feelings that will allow us to deeply intuit why we have complicated our lives. When we begin to do this, we will start to see that the deeply human side of ourselves is not really a liability at all.
All thinking takes you out of the truth, out of God, out of love, into the illusory world of the mind, which is the world of “not you.” Not one thought you have, nor one thought I have is the truth. Not one opinion or concept that either I have or you have is the truth. All these things, if you believe in them, imprison you in the world of the mind. Thinking takes you into the world of the mind, and belief imprisons you there.
. . . I can sum up what it is that I have to share in one sentence, though it doesn’t mean I will vacate the chair after I do so. Let me sum up everything in one sentence, which really puts an end to all spiritual seeking; it brings an end to the journey. So those who are not ready for that can leave now. And I mean this. You should pause for a moment and ask if your ego is ready for it. And of course, the ego will say, “No way.” The ego wants you on a spiritual path; it started you up on this path in the first place. The ego is seeking that ultimate accomplishment called enlightenment so that everyone will sit at its feet. Other egos just seek to escape fear and the pain of separation. The ego likes this journey and loves to feel it is making progress, to feel that it is becoming more spiritual. It knows all the jargon, all the right language, and can speak using all the right technical terms. And people are impressed. This is what the ego wants-to advance spiritually. If you happen to find yourself on the true path, the true way, and awakening is available to you, the ego will freak out completely, dig its heels in, and say, “I don’t think so.” And then it will draw on its bag of tricks to make sure you don’t stay at that point of awakening. It has a great bag of tricks.
. . . Here’s the teaching in one sentence: In truth, there is no life outside of this moment. That’s it. Sooner or later, we humans will have to come to terms with this simple truth. In this moment, this all that God has to offer you-nothing more.
Questioner: It has been my experience that there ought to be a little warning label on the spiritual path.
Catherine: I agree. I always say that the dharma ruins your life.
Q: It’s definitely not for the faint of heart. When the mind comes forward to defend itself, there can be pretty terrifying thoughts and in my instance-simply to provide context-it was fear of dying, fear of going crazy. I was absolutely mortified, as if it would lock me into this body, stuck with this mind. In the process of observing the mind, I became aware of the silence that allowed me to be aware of what was going on in my mind. The dilemma I have is that I do not recognize “myself” in the silence. I hear “I Am That,” but I don’t feel “I Am That.”
C: And that was uncomfortable to you?
Q: It was uncomfortable to the extent that I was not willing to give up this craziness for the mystery.
C: Let’s keep it very, very simple and report what is occurring. There is this awareness that you are speaking of, that you’ve recognized. And there are all kinds of thoughts of a different nature flowing through the awareness, not exactly stuck inside of it, but going through. Is there a problem with the nature of any one of these thoughts?
Q: I guess the problem is just another thought. I misidentified with certain things and now I am trying to identify with the awareness.
C: And this same thought, this identification thought, has now come and gone.
Q: Yes, and I feel at sea when it is gone.
C: At sea?
C: The feeling of adrift . . . is there a thought attached to it?
C: When the thought “I am feeling adrift” goes through the pristine awareness, then what happens? It drifts on. Let me encourage you by saying there is no end that I see to the cleverness of mind that is trying to come up with a loophole. Here is an important thing to know: You don’t have to make thoughts stop. They may or may not stop. The mind is conditioned, but what happens is that you taste this greater love. You sink into this delicious awareness, knowing that nothing is sticking to it. It doesn’t matter what thoughts are going through. I always say, “Assume the mind is mad.” Let’s just start there. Assume that it will assail you with depraved, frightening thoughts, such as the fear of death, fear of loss of hearing, fear of somebody leaving you, and so on. Some of these thoughts bring strong emotions with them. Yet, all thoughts go through the pristine awareness to which nothing sticks, so it doesn’t matter what they are. Now here, then gone.
Q: I am obviously filtering everything you’re saying through my conditioned mind, and the question I have to answer for myself is the awareness of living presence within me. And I guess that will take time.
C: No, it doesn’t take time at all. What creates the sense of its taking time is that you have a “postponement loophole” in your perception, which means you’re going to think about it and try to work it out. I’m telling you right now that with no other addition or subtraction of anything, or understanding one additional thing, you can directly experience this awareness to which nothing is adhering. The words that I just said are gone now. And here is this awareness; it’s no big deal. At ease . . . no big deal.
Q: I think you’re right. I don’t know why, but it’s no big deal.
C: Take it to heart. It’s easy.
To be present, the first thing is to know what we are. Ramana Maharshi poses the question “Who am I?” He could also pose the question, “What am I?” The first task is to recognize this, to recognize our own nature. There are many ways that this can be done. It happens every day in our lives, but we usually don’t notice it. So I want to sketch out four ways with the intention that these become tools for you to recognize your own nature in the course of your life. The four ways are called power, ecstasy, insight, and compassion. Power is the ability to implement intention; ecstasy is the ability to open to what is; insight is the ability to see into what has happened; compassion is the ability to accept and serve what is true. We do not have to develop any of these abilities; they are all part of what you are. You have them right now, but as the books and the teachers say, you don’t know it.
So how to recognize your own nature in Power? I want to go back a few centuries, perhaps a few millennia, for this one. God says to Abraham, “Kill your son for me.” What does one do? And what happened when this question was asked? Here the possibility of conflict is used to bring out one’s own nature. Or to put it another way, the possibility of conflict is used to go empty; this is the recognition that we are not “anything,” but that we are here right now.
How do you recognize your own nature through Ecstasy? Whether it’s through loving kindness, through love, faith, or devotion, pick any point in this room and look at it, whether it’s a candle, a flower, a statue of Buddha, the back of the head of the person in front of you, it doesn’t matter. Just take it in right now. Rest your attention right there. And as you rest your attention there; let your feelings expand in stages so that you include everything in your visual field. When you can open to everything in your visual field, simultaneously open to all of the other senses: the sound of the creaking of the chairs, the sound of the air conditioner, the sound of my voice. When you have all that, then open to all of the thoughts and feelings inside of you. So there is no inside or outside, just a totality of experience. And there you are.
How do you recognize your own nature through Insight? This is what Ramana Maharshi excelled at. Ask yourself the question, “What am I?” And in the moment you ask that question, there is a moment of seeing “no thing” in which knowing is present. There you are. You cannot put this into words.
To recognize your nature through Compassion, imagine that you can take all the suffering of all people and all beings everywhere into you, and experience all of the pain and confusion, illness, mental anguish, wickedness, evil, benevolence-all that you can take from everybody, everywhere so that they are free of it. Would you hesitate if you could do that in one breath? And there you are.
When you are rooted in the Now, you are rooted in Being; you are rooted in yourself. There is so much fullness in the Now; it is the fullness of life itself, because before life became a “thing,” an object, a life-form, there is “life-consciousness.” And to know yourself as that is the ultimate liberation. What is liberation? What are you liberated from? You are liberated from the world of things, from obsession, from being consumed by things, which includes thoughts. You are liberated from time-also as an obsession-which you are consumed by. You are liberated from a very heavy sense of self, of need, which the Buddha called “self.” Ah . . . all that . . . Ah.
. . . The magic formula is-and it doesn’t work if it remains a thought-form-that the forms which seem to limit you in your life are concealed openings into the formless. The conditions that seem to limit you are the portals into the unconditioned-that which you are in your essence. Some people have experienced extreme forms of limitation in their lives, both physical and material, or some other awful limitation. And when they let go of resistance to this moment, even in the most dreadful situations and the most dreadful limitations, they suddenly realized the formless space that they are . . . peace. So look at your life and see where it seems to limit you. What area do you feel hemmed in by, your life situation? It could be relationships, the place where you live, the people you live with, the physical structures around you, your house or work situation.
Almost everybody experiences some form of limitation in his or her life. You might also notice that you are almost in a habitual resistance to those limitations and forms. See what happens if you let go of the resistance to “what is.” See what happens if you let go of the “no” to this moment. You may be surprised how quickly things change and how quickly the stuckness gets unstuck when you surrender. And some of you have experienced how quickly you become free of the conditioned not by trying to reach some unconditioned point in the future, but by not offering inner resistance to the conditioned. With that deep acceptance of “what is” comes a word that I usually avoid because it can easily become a thought-form because it has been misused so much. With acceptance of “what is” comes love. You love “what is.” We don’t even need to say “love,” because it is present when there is an allowing of whatever form this moment takes. There, love arises.